Under the Radar

College Students Fight the Viet Cong


Oberlin College cancelled this weekend’s performance by Canadian indie rock band Viet Cong after the college community complained about the band’s name.

Readers who lived through the Vietnam era might think that Oberlin students would be totally cool with and maybe even excited to see a band named after the guerrilla units allied with the Northern army during the Vietnam War. After all, one of the school’s most famous alumni is Rennie Davis, one of the Chicago Seven, charged and tried for organizing the notorious anti-war demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Viet Cong (the band) had been enjoying a good year. Their debut album came out in January and they’ve garnered rave reviews from Pitchfork and SPIN. You can check out a song here.

Times have changed. Ivan Krasnov, the young promoter at the school’s Dionysus Disco, canceled the show and issued a long statement that apologized for “inviting a band with a name that deeply offends and hurts Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American communities, both in Oberlin and beyond. I acknowledge the problematic nature of a band naming themselves 'Viet Cong' and extend my apology to anyone hurt or made uncomfortable by the name and its connotations."

Krasnov went on to say that offering a stage to the band would dishonor the school’s history of student protests against the war, something that might confuse noted North Vietnamese supporter Jane Fonda (seen above).


Do these four guys look like they paid attention in history class? No, they do not.

Of course, the four Canadian stoners in the combo don’t have much of a clue about the name, either. Band member Matt Flegel said their name “comes from our drummer, and from us being teenagers and watching movies. The Viet Cong were always the bad asses in movies. We are getting a lot of shit for the band name—it’s fairly controversial. I’ve looked into it a bit more since then, but I didn’t really know the history of it. [The Viet Cong] did terrible things, but so did the American military.”

Band mate Monty Munro helpfully added, “I feel like calling [the band] ‘The U.S. Marines’ wouldn’t be controversial here in the same way.”

Controversial/offensive band names are nothing new. Steely Dan was named after a “marital aid” mentioned in William S Burroughs’ novel Naked Lunch. Joy Division took their name from the prostitution wing of a Nazi concentration camp. Gang of Four are named after the brutal Chinese Communist faction that led the 1960s Cultural Revolution. The Dead Kennedys: no explanation required. And the Clash named an album Sandinista!, after the leftist Nicaraguan party who were our government’s declared enemies back in the ‘80s.

Most bands are smart enough to realize that calling yourself the Taliban or Al Qaeda in 2015 would be a non-starter with even the most alternative rock kids today. Turn back the clock 50 years and they're not quite so savvy.

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